California fires could reach record levels in 2008

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 9:42 PM GMT on June 25, 2008

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An unusually early and dangerous fire season has hit California, where at least 33 fires burning over a total of 190,000 acres are active, according to the Interagency Fire Center. The fires were sparked over the weekend when an unusually far southward-moving storm system brought numerous thunderstorms to central and northern California. Over 8,000 lightning strikes hit the region. Most of these strikes were not accompanied by rain, since a very dry atmosphere at low levels caused much of the thunderstorm rain to evaporate before reaching the surface. The lightning strikes ignited an unusual number of fires, due to exceptionally dry vegetation in California. This year, the state experienced its driest spring season (March-April-May) since record keeping began in 1895, and much of the state is in moderate to severe drought.


Figure 1. Visible satellite image from NASA's Aqua spacecraft on Monday, June 23, 2008, showing smoke from hundreds of wildfires sparked by lightning in California. The red regions show where the satellite's sensor detected fires burning. The smoke has created air pollution levels in excess of the federal standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) over much of California's Central Valley. Image credit: NASA.

The forecast
With the dry season only beginning, it could be a record fire year in California. Even before last weekend's lightning storms, California had already seen an unusually large number of destructive wildfires, according to CalFire--90,000 acres had burned, compared to 42,000 acres during the same period last year. It is not unusual for large portions of the state to receive no rain at all in July and August, such as occurred last year (Figure 2). The jet stream typically moves far enough north in summer that the migrating low pressure systems that bring California most of its rain only hit the northernmost portions of the state. With high fuel levels due to a century of misguided fire suppression efforts, moderate to severe drought gripping the state, no rain in sight for months to come, and an above-normal chance of warmer than average temperatures forecast this summer for the state by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, expect a record fire season in California.


Figure 2. Observed precipitation over California during 2007. Much of the state received no rain at all during July and August, which is a common occurrence. A little bit of thunderstorm activity did make it into the easternmost portion of the state, thanks to moisture flowing north-westward from the Arizona Monsoon. However, the Sierra Mountains block this moisture from reaching the central and western portions of the state. Image credit: NOAA.

Tropics
It's quiet in the tropical Atlantic. There are no threat areas to discuss, and none of the models are forecasting tropical storm formation in the next seven days. Beyond a week from now, the GFS is hinting that the region off the coast of Africa could see some development, but it is still probably too early for this too occur, despite warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the region.

Jeff Masters

San Bruno Mountain Fire - Cresting the Ridge (ajkimoto)
Photo taken as the fire crested the ridge of San Bruno Mountain
San Bruno Mountain Fire - Cresting the Ridge
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1214. 786
5:42 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Okay here is what my understanding is thus far, I hope it helps those who are kinda confused like me:

Vorticity: the rotation of air in a horizontal plain. Positive vorticity means that the rotation is cyclonic (anti-clockwise). 850hPA represents the atmospheric pressure at the altitude of 1500m - the distance is measured from sea-level. The more positive the vorticity is, the stonger the cyclonic flow and at the 850hPa level higher positive vorticity = higher chance of unsettled weather.

MJO = Madden Julian Oscillation which is a 30-60 day cycle of flucuations in tropical rainfall. The wave starts in the Indian Ocean and travels East at 800km/day!! It is always in one of 8 phases. We are currently in phase 7 which shows that the Atlantic is within the "blue zone" of the MJO's = enhanced rainfall. When the "MJO is ascending" air is rising and therefore dry air is reduced, moisture can build up which is favourable for convection.

ENSO is the state of the Southern Oscillation. It ranges from El Nino, Neutral, La Nina. La Nina to Neutral produce the most favourable conditions for tropical development as wind shear is lower, temperatures in the Atlantic are higher etc.

NAO is the Northern Atlantic oscillation which is the difference of sea-level pressure between the Icelandic low and the Azores high (constants in the earth's atmosphere). It controls the direction and strength of Westerly winds and storm tracks. A positive phase NAO means that there are there is below normal height and pressure across high latitudes in the Northern Atlantic and above normal height and pressure in the Central Atlantic, Eastern U.S and Western Eurpope. In a positive phase temperatures in the Easter U.S. are above normal. Along with the following:

- subtropical ridge is stronger
- the Bermuda high is higher and more Westward
- there is reduced wind shear
- the Easterly jet is increased

During El Nino a negative phase NAO is more conducive for tropical development whereas during La Nina a positive phase is more conducive.

In conclusion from my limited understanding, my first ever attempted forecast:

seeing as we are in La Nina, MJO is producing enhanced rainfall in the Atlantic, we are in a positive phase of the NAO - over all climatology favours development at present.

For the wave at 36w there is limited positive vorticity, the wave at 21w is displaying better cyclonic turning (positive vorticity). Shear in front of both waves is favourable (5-10 knots) and the shear tendancy map (which shows how the shear pattern has been in the last 24 hours), shows that shear in front of both the 21w and 36w wave is decreasing or otherwise at 5-10 knots. SSTs are higher than 27 degrees celsius (anything above 26. celsius can develop a cyclone)b and thats it
Member Since: August 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 910
1213. zoomiami
5:29 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Belated thanks for the answers - had to go back to work!
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 10 Comments: 4158
1212. 69Viking
5:03 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
1194. Beachfoxx

I read about it, so sad. I have a 10 year old already shopping for his first boat. By the time he gets one I'll make sure he has a good understanding of the weather and how quickly it can change for the worse. Until then he can just remain the co-captain on my boat where I'll keep us both out of storms like the one that did those boys in.
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 1 Comments: 3074
1211. pottery
5:00 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Hello all.
Nice weather here at 11n 61w today.( Trinidad)
Showers, sunshine, clear sky, green vegetation, cool breeze.
Temp 90f
Humid. 66%
Press, 1013 falling.

And I dont work on Friday anymore.......
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24646
1210. prophetofdoom
4:56 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
we had hail and lost power in metairie yesterday.
1209. Beachfoxx
4:56 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Ike,

Broke my heart for the family....

New blog up.
Member Since: July 10, 2005 Posts: 157 Comments: 29384
1208. Drakoen
4:56 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30604
1207. GOLSUTIGERS
4:55 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Thanks StormW.
We have had some good afternoon storms in Baton Rouge the last few days with lots of lighting and hail. Suppose to continue though Monday.
Member Since: June 25, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 48
1206. IKE
4:55 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
1200. 7544 11:49 AM CDT on June 27, 2008
1091. StormW 2:51 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
1083. IKE 10:47 AM EDT on June 27, 2008
Appears to be moving west...definitely a circulation with it.


Slow WNW motion.


would you say the spin is around 7n/ 34 w with this wave


Close to there.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1205. prophetofdoom
4:52 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
cool, its scary to live here we arent safe anymore.
1203. IKE
4:52 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
1194. Beachfoxx 11:45 AM CDT on June 27, 2008
It is hurricane soup out there.

Yep, Surfmom it is...
My plans for checking water temps may have just changed. Have some serious thunder booming...

Hey Ike!
A couple of nasty storms this week... Did you know those young boys who lost their lives last Sunday during that T-Storm? So tragic.


Their grandfather has insurance with me. Tragic....yeah...it's clouding up here too...
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1202. Drakoen
4:51 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
1185. IKE 4:40 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
12Z GFS is further west and south with the African wave(system?), on this run compared to the 6Z run.


Yep which makes the forecast somewhat more believable since the storm won't be heading into those sub 26C waters. Waters above 26C are needed to maintain organized convection.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30604
1200. 7544
4:49 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
1091. StormW 2:51 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
1083. IKE 10:47 AM EDT on June 27, 2008
Appears to be moving west...definitely a circulation with it.


Slow WNW motion.


would you say the spin is around 7n/ 34 w with this wave
Member Since: May 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6871
1199. saintsfan06
4:49 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
I live in NOLA
Member Since: September 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 171
1198. leftovers
4:49 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
"The spin in the Gulf is an Upper Level Low, development is highly unlikely" JP If it is there tomorrow we are starting to see signs of persistance. With the models jumping on this earlier this wk these clouds need to be watched this wkend. No other threats.
1196. prophetofdoom
4:46 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Is anyone here from NOLA?
1195. saintsfan06
4:46 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Thanks Ike and great advice surfmom
Member Since: September 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 171
1194. Beachfoxx
4:45 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
It is hurricane soup out there.

Yep, Surfmom it is...
My plans for checking water temps may have just changed. Have some serious thunder booming...

Hey Ike!
A couple of nasty storms this week... Did you know those young boys who lost their lives last Sunday during that T-Storm? So tragic.
Member Since: July 10, 2005 Posts: 157 Comments: 29384
1193. Drakoen
4:44 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
1180. zoomiami 4:36 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
StormW or Drak: In post 1149 is a beautiful map with all the colors. Can you explain, in plain english what the significance of the colors are?



Those maps are showing vorticity within the atmosphere. The dark red colors are representative of strong positive vorticity maximum which is associated with low pressure systems. The lighter yellow colors are indicative of weak vorticity which may be associated with developing features. The blue colors represent negative vorticity associated with more anticyclonic features. With negative vorticity you have an atmosphere that's more stable and susident. That higher the negative vorticity the more subsident as there is no vertical upward velocity to support the building of thunderstorms in the mid and upper levels of the atmosphere.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30604
1192. prophetofdoom
4:44 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
the ull is near texas the llc is in the BOC.
1191. hondaguy
4:43 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
I *really* think the blob in the GOM needs to be watched. I know there is an ULL, however they have been known to dissipate, form into a lower level circulation, and move closer to convection.

LINK to the visible still.
1190. GOLSUTIGERS
4:43 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
StormW is the QBO responsible for the 3 systems that are in the pacific?
I have been lurking now for more then 3 years now, just came out of the closet hopefully a little smarter than 3 years ago.
Member Since: June 25, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 48
1188. HurricaneKing
4:42 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
1180.

That's the 200mb vorticy. Where the bright colors are there are upper level lows/troughs. They cause shear for developing tropical systems.
Member Since: July 6, 2005 Posts: 71 Comments: 2485
1187. prophetofdoom
4:41 PM GMT on June 27, 2008

1157. TheWeatherMan504 4:12 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
there is an LLC in the BOC you can see the west wind on the visible loop!


wow your right this thing looks like our next invest.

1185. IKE
4:40 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
12Z GFS is further west and south with the African wave(system?), on this run compared to the 6Z run.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1184. Nolehead
4:39 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
both, but i'm at work...so i gotta wait till this afternoon..can't seem to hit all 6 #'s in lotto dang it!!!
Member Since: June 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1934
1183. surfmom
4:39 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
thanks StormW - another page for my mjo section.
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
1182. 786
4:38 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Thanks Storm, much appreciated
Member Since: August 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 910
1181. surfmom
4:38 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
If I had a thigh high I wouldn't be sitting here, thats for sure --are you a long board or short board
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
1180. zoomiami
4:36 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
StormW or Drak: In post 1149 is a beautiful map with all the colors. Can you explain, in plain english what the significance of the colors are?

I'm trying to learn how to interpet all the different images - and I'm never sure what this way tells you.

Thanks
Deb
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 10 Comments: 4158
1179. surfmom
4:36 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Beachfoxx, I have the same observations. It seemed to stay cooler a bit longer, but then it heated up like someone plug the cord in. It is hurricane soup out there.
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
1178. Nolehead
4:34 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
surfmom,lol...you know it..COME ON!! been way too long..but we also have been spoiled big time for the past few years...we have a thigh high swell right now, nothing to write home about but hey it's rideable!!
Member Since: June 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1934
1177. surfmom
4:33 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Hi Saintsfan - good to see you back. If I remember, yesterday you said you were shy to ask questions..... you have good ones and I learn from them --so don't hesitate. One thing I did when I started last year was to start a note book, when I don't understand something, or I learn something new I often send it over to the printed and file it. Then when I'm sitting in the car waiting for kids etc., I review and re-read. The re-read often helps me to sink the information deep and to better understand things. It also helps to print out the maps and then compare the picture to what StormW or who ever is writing about.
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
1176. IKE
4:32 PM GMT on June 27, 2008

1167. saintsfan06 11:25 AM CDT on June 27, 2008
How can you tell from looking at the water vapor loop what a ULL looks like?


My non-met answer...counterclockwise spin in the northern hemisphere...usually void of clouds.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1174. Patrap
4:31 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
GOM IR Loop Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129089
1173. 786
4:31 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
and when you say the MJO is ascending, does that mean that it is more north therefore in the region of our tropical waves enhancing rainfall?
Member Since: August 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 910
1172. Beachfoxx
4:29 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Surfmom,

GOM waters do feel like overly warm bathwaters! On the beach yesterday and was surprised at the water temps. Going out into Bay later today and checking water temps in a couple of areas. Seem warmer in Bay this year than past... *note to self ~ Must keep better records! LOL
Member Since: July 10, 2005 Posts: 157 Comments: 29384
1171. 786
4:29 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
I see the MJO has 8 phases. Right now it appears to be in phase 7, which shows enhanced rainfall (blue area) in the Atlantic. Is this why it is in a "Westerly Phase"?
Member Since: August 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 910
1170. Drakoen
4:28 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
This is the 13th consecutive run on the GFS so we will see what happens. This morning long-range CMC also showed development as well.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30604
1169. surfmom
4:28 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Hi stormw - looks like we are almost ready to rock and roll.

Nice having the kid out of school and not be working full time at the polo club. Gives me more relax time here. Starting to have quite an interesting notebook - and beginning to understand thing more quickly then last year.
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
1168. stoormfury
4:27 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
sorry this is ASCAT of the area


LinkLink
Member Since: August 22, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2720
1167. saintsfan06
4:25 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
How can you tell from looking at the water vapor loop what a ULL looks like?
Member Since: September 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 171
1166. surfmom
4:24 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
just back from the polo barns east of I75 --A wall of humity today - horses were slow, pokey, naughty and did not want to work out. Figured I wouldn't want to run in this either, so instead of the track we hit the trails. There the waves of mosquitos were just as bad as those nasty deer flies. Human and four-leggeds were delighted with a good hose shower. Rig the hose up after their bath so it showered down on the horses where they were tied up. They just loved it. Had to use the heavy duty cattle bug spray to keep the horses out of misery.

The blob in the Gulf, Nole I know what your thinking and I am on the same page, just big enough to get those buoys rocking so I can surf in 90 degree water and feel like I'm 14 again! So hungry for just a few decent rides....it's been way too long.
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
1165. Drakoen
4:23 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
1159. StormW 4:16 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
Afternoon Drak;Ike!


Hey StormW!
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30604
1164. TheWeatherMan504
4:22 PM GMT on June 27, 2008
.
Member Since: May 18, 2008 Posts: 2 Comments: 1042

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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